Hong Kong suffers Chronic Air Pollution

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      Is Hong Kong too complacent regarding air pollution? Will pollution levels be tolerated in the interests of economic necessity or are its health impacts currently too ‘trivial’ or distant to warrant any July 1st demonstrations in Central?

      I am currently conducting a foresight study, looking 15 years into the future to 2020 and investigating people’s sentiments with regard to their future careers and livelihood in Hong Kong. One aspect of that is the effect that pollution may have on their views, particularly with regard to the SAR Government’s commitment to policies in response to it and its plans for further development, something that will undoubtedly magnify the impacts.


      Hi Jerry:

      I think HK people are concerned, but with this a chronic problem, and deaths not real spectacular and in public eye (and, I think, air pollution rarely if ever proven to be cause of illness/death), seems no great impetus to get on street.

      Much of govt probably is pretty complacent; not much public pressure re pollution, but pressure for development. Then, a lot of pollution here is cross-border, and that’s tougher – leaders very focused on development, and even though there seems to be appreciation that pollution is severe and a problem, actually doing hard stuff to tackle it maybe seen as even tougher.

      I’ve been here 18 years, seen much talk but little action re air pollution. (Seemed a plus when tougher emission levels caused many factories to close in Tsuen Wan area – but then, factories popped up over border, essentially unregulated [regulations are there, but who bothers about such trivia?])

      Also a plus to have LPG for taxis, light buses.
      But look at the obstacles placed before trolley buses, which Citybus keen on. And still the love of highways (by, gasp!, dept responsible for highways) – like the silly road being built over Stonecutters; harbour reclamation being – we’re told – driven by need to improve highway system, while electronic road pricing etc languish. Bah!


      Post edited by: Martin, at: 2005/04/22 11:22


      Hong Kong Wheezes as China’s Industrial Economy Belches Smog is title of an item from Bloomberg. Plenty of info and quotes, including:

      “It’s an absolute scandal,” said Anthony Hedley, chairman of the department of community medicine at the University of Hong Kong. “Hong Kong is going backward in terms of pollution. The government has been non-interventionist to the point of being really negligent.”
      On average Hong Kong experiences low visibility every five days, according to a CLSA report in April. Good air quality days fell to 35 percent last year compared with 45 percent in 2001, it said. Singapore is by far the cleanest city in Asia in terms of air quality, while Tokyo, Seoul, and Taipei all enjoy better air than Hong Kong, the report said.
      Falling air quality in Hong Kong will affect the health of the city’s residents long into the future, said Professor Tai Hing Lam, head of the department of community medicine at the University of Hong Kong. “If air pollution affects our people at a young age, then we may see something more disastrous in the coming years,” said Lam. “Pollution is becoming a major problem in Hong Kong.” The city’s attractiveness as a travel destination is also under threat, according to industry officials such as Mark Lettenbichler, chairman of the Hong Kong Hotels Association, and Selina Chow, chairman of the Hong Kong Tourism Board. “It should be the government’s number one priority,” Chow said.

        The government has not published any air pollution readings since 1pm today Sunday 23rd October.Anyone have any idea why?



        Bizarre; just checked at: http://www.epd-asg.gov.hk/eindex.php – and still blank since around 7pm on Sunday. Hopefully just temporary glitch. There’s no note on EPD website. Sunday China Morning Post – sadly unlinkable – led with big story on air pollution yesterday, inc criticisms of govt for not measuring the smaller particulates, which recent research eslewhere has shown to be more dangerous than previously thought, especially impacted children. Showed how our air pollution would be consistently way over European Union Standards. Suggested breathing here is roughly equivalant to smoking eight cigarettes a day. Govt has anti-smoking adverts. Maybe soon should also have adverts saying, "Warning: Breathing Can Damage Your Health". Google News search for air pollution particulates yields items inc re air pollution linked to increased risk of heart attack and lower sperm quality; also news item titled Heat dangers forgotten in the battle against air pollution – saying some deaths thought to be due to ozone were really because of heat. People over 65 most at risks; and heat related deaths even in UK.


        Hong Kong Marathon just held – and led to some bad publicity for Hong Kong, highlighting local air pollution.
        By no means first time air pollution here has been focus of media attention; still, can but hope it will help nudge authorities towards more action, less talk.

        Excerpts from Reuters item, here on Boston Globe site:

        HONG KONG (Reuters) – Twenty-two people were taken to hospital, two in critical condition, after taking part in Hong Kong’s biggest marathon as the territory was hit by the worst air pollution in months, the government said on Monday.

        A record 40,000 people took part in Sunday’s Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon and many complained of the thick smog which obscured the Tsing Ma Bridge, a key landmark along the route.

        Of the two runners who were critically ill, one collapsed near the finish in Wanchai, an area where the air pollution index (API) soared to nearly 150, the highest level since September 2005. The other collapsed not far from the Tsing Ma Bridge.
        … an expert in Hong Kong urged people not to underestimate the effects of bad air during strenuous exercise.
        “Pollution may have been the cause because of the high level of suspended particulates. For people with a history of asthma, polluted air can cause tightness in the chest,” said medical doctor Lo Winglok.
        “It is not surprising at all that these people could suffer from cardiac or respiratory related problems,” he said.
        However, Choi Kin, president of the Hong Kong Medical Association, said the condition of the two men was more likely to be linked to their level of fitness rather than air quality.

        Hong Kong’s air quality has deteriorated badly in recent years. On many days of the year, the former British colony handed back to China in 1997 is shrouded in smog and people can hardly see across the famous Victoria Harbour.
        Environmentalists blame the air pollution on emissions from vehicles in the territory and factories in southern China.

        Two runners critically ill after HK marathon

        Just checking air pollution indices – which are being published, and High; even at Tap Mun, out in Tolo Harbour in eastern New Territories: so, seems we’re in regional, Pearl River Delta pollution.
        [and govt wants to build major highway from Zhuhai and lots of associated infrastructure…]

        Post edited by: martin, at: 2006/02/14 01:18


          So we have now had 2 major events that have highlighted Hong Kong as being a polluted city -the opening of Disneyland and now the Marathon. How many more international exposes will we need to get this government to start being more proactive. Rumour has it there is supposed to be some Airshow taking place next year – i hope it does not involve low level aerial stunt flying, or they might find themselves wrapped up in the cables of 360.
          Saying that I was busy running and filming up the IFC tower on Sat, and in all my years I have never seen such an apocolyptic view and orange glowing sun first thing in the morning..it was truly sad, ugly and not the Hong Kong I used to know…


            Reverting back to my original post, images of the sunrise could be downloaded from twoifcmounteverestchallenge dot com  [defunct now? – Martin]


            article on Xinhua about air pollution in HK:

            Hong Kong is famous for its harbor scenery, green mountains and blue sky, but they are now giving way to heavy smog, which not only choked the city but also made colors faded into a depressed grey.

            The Environmental Protection Department of Hong Kong said Tuesday that 23 pollution convictions were recorded in February and more than half of the convictions were under the Air Pollution Control Ordinance.

            According to the Friends of the Earth, an environment protecting organization, the number of low visibility days at the Hong Kong International Airport, where tourists get the first impression of the city, reached a record high last year. And the number of clear days in the downtown area is even less.

            Emissions of vehicles and power plants, as well as pollutants from the Pearl River Delta are considered the main reasons for the bad air of the city.

            A survey published by Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Lung Foundation said that 30 percent of elderly citizens over the age of 70 complained about respiratory problems in 2003 because of bad air, compared with 4.9 percent in 1991. The percentage has risen six times within 12 years.

            Respiratory experts have called on the government to take immediate measures in air pollution control, including a smoking ban in all catering services by 2007, the most difficult part for Hong Kong’s long delayed dream of smoke free.

            More experts are concerned that the severe air pollution will not only harm the health of the public but also damage the image of Hong Kong’s tourism industry, an important source of revenue for the city.

            Friends of the Earth said it has interviewed 129 tour guides between March 8 and 10, during which half of the interviewees rated the air quality of Hong Kong as either severe or very severeand nearly 40 percent said tourists had complained about air pollution.

            A spokesman for Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department said Monday that the government is determined to achieve the emission targets by cooperation with neighboring Guangdong Province.

            The governments of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and Guangdong have agreed to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2),nitrogen oxides (NOx), respirable suspended particulates (RSP) andvolatile organic compounds (VOC) by 40 percent, 20 percent, 55 percent and 55 percent, respectively by the year of 2010.

            For the electricity generation, the biggest source of air pollution in Hong Kong, the Department has asked power companies to accelerate emission reduction projects, increase the use of ultra-low sulfur coal and use natural gas for power generation as much as possible.

            Meanwhile, a large scale of educational campaign of anti-smoke is launched this month in catering service industry in order to reach the target of eliminating smoking in all catering places in Hong Kong by the year of 2007.

            The Department also planned to pursue additional measures in its struggle for better air, such as introducing Euro IV emission standards to newly-registered vehicles.

            Choked Hong Kong fights for better air


            Friends of the Earth has an online petition, imploring local power companies to clean up emissions (and do more than just bombard us with adverts showing blue skies – let’s see some actual blue skies!)

            Not sure if there’s cut-off date.

            English: http://www.foe.org.hk/Ealert/energy/energy_eng.asp

            Chinese: http://www.foe.org.hk/Ealert/energy/energy.asp


              Thank you for your email regarding indoor air quality and respirable
              suspended particulates (RSP).

              The indoor air quality objective for RSP is less than 180ug/m3 for a 8-hour
              average while the air quality objective of RSP for ambient air is 180
              ug/m3 for a 24-hour average. The averaging time for both objectives are
              different and so direct comparison between them may not be appropriate.

              In fact, our IAQ objectives are comparable to similar standards of other
              countries, nevertheless we will continue to keep in view of the latest
              development in the area and update the IAQ objectives when necessary.

              Thank you again for your suggestions and support for improving indoor air


              Chris CHEUNG
              Environmental Protection Department

              To: [email protected]
              Cc: [email protected] ; [email protected]
              Sent: Tuesday, March 07, 2006 9:00 AM
              Subject: Re: E(06/0247) Comments on EPD’s IAQ Website Advice to the Public

              IAQ Objectives for Offices and Public Places

              Respirable Suspended Particulates
              “Good Class” <180 micrograms per m3 per 8 hour average
              Nitrogen Dioxide
              “Good Class” <150 micrograms per m3 per 8 hour average
              Carbon Monoxide
              “Good Class” <10,000 micrograms per m3 per 8 hour average

              Technical Memorandum for Specifying Air Quality Objectives for Hong Kong.

              The concentration of respirable suspended particulates in air having a
              nominal aerodynamic diameter of 10 micrometers or less averaged over any 24
              hour period SHALL NOT EXCEED 180 micrograms per cubic meter MORE THAN ONCE
              PER YEAR.

              The concentration of nitrogen dioxide in air averaged over any 24 hour
              period SHALL NOT EXCEED 150 micrograms per cubic meter MORE THAN ONCE PER

              The concentration of carbon monoxide in air averaged over any 24 hour
              period SHALL NOT EXCEED 10,000 micrograms per cubic meter MORE THAN ONCE
              PER YEAR.

              Dear Sir
              I refer to your reply to my ETS query below.

              Firstly ETS has respirable suspended particulates of 2.5 micrometers, far
              smaller than the 10 micrometers used as the guideline in EPD publications.
              Nose hairs cannot filter PM2.5 so the particulates are sucked deep into the
              lungs. Indeed California has now designated ETS as an Outdoor toxic air
              pollutant on the same level as diesel emissions.
              Secondly your advice to the 85% of non smoker majority of Hong Kong people
              to avoid workplaces and places of entertainment which are ETS sources is
              of course an impossibility under current laws that need immediate
              rectification and enforcement.

              Please now refer to the above IAQ information which is posted on your
              It seems that the EPD deems an office or indoor public place (such as a
              hospital) with the IAQ Objectives listed above is worthy of a ‘Good Class’
              IAQ Certificate.
              Meanwhile the above Outdoor Air Quality Objectives also listed on the site
              contradict the IAQ Objectives.

              For reference:
              ” Air quality goal
              Inhalable particles (those with diameter less than 10µm) are commonly
              understood to pose the greatest risk to human health. There have been
              extensive studies into the health effects of different levels of particles
              and pollution mixes. However, no studies have yet determined a threshold
              value for long-term or short-term exposure below which no adverse health
              effects are observed. The national 24-hour exposure standard for PM10 in
              the Air NEPM is 50 µg/m3. This is the same as the EPP(Air) goal for annual
              average PM10 concentrations. The EPA monitors PM10 in south-east
              Queensland, Gladstone, Rockhampton, Mackay and Townsville. The annual PM10
              average in these areas for 2001 were below the EPP(Air) goal (see below).
              See what the current PM10 concentrations are at the EPA’s monitoring
              stations throughout Queensland. “

              Respirable Suspended Particulates – why is there a major discrepancy
              between the indoor and outdoor air quality descriptions? Indoor air RSP
              levels are defined as ” Good Class” at 180 ugm/m3. However outdoor the
              air pollution levels are defined as high and to occur ‘not more than once a
              year’ at these levels. Since they are both a part of the same department
              namely the EPD, why is there no consistency regarding
              description of air quality between the indoor and outdoor air ? Does the
              EPD really regard high levels of air pollution as “Good Class” air

              By Victor Mallet in Hong Kong
              Published: April 3 2006

              Hong Kong’s ranking as a desirable place to live for expatriate employees has fallen sharply as a result of worsening air pollution, according to the latest survey of the world’s cities from ECA International, which sells advice to employers on living conditions and hardship allowances.

              For Asian expatriates, Hong Kong fell to 32nd place in the 2005-06 rankings from 20th in 2004-05, entirely because of air pollution and rising health risks, including the dangers of bird flu to humans.

              Hong Kong’s pollution, most of it blown in from the factories, vehicles and power stations of the neighbouring Chinese province of Guangdong, has worsened steadily but its authorities have been slow to respond and been reluctant to confront their counterparts in Guangdong and Beijing. Some western expatriates have moved from Hong Kong to Singapore or returned to their home countries, citing air pollution as one of the factors that persuaded them to leave.

              Mr Quane said that for Asian expatriates Hong Kong’s decline this year had pushed the city from the top category, where ECA says no hardship allowance is needed, to Category B, for which companies should consider paying such an allowance.

              Air pollution is given 20 out of a total of 330 points in the ranking system (with the highest score being the worst). Hong Kong’s air pollution score is 14, compared with two for Singapore….

              Hong Kong’s air pollution cuts its appeal


              Time Asia just reporting that Seoul is cleaning its air; but at the same time, Hong Kong’s air pollution is getting worse.

              By Bryan Walsh | Hong Kong
              VANISHING: Hong Kong is often shrouded in heavy smog

              …Hong Kong has lost its sky. The city is frequently cloaked in a noxious smog, and many days the only place you can see a clear shot of the famously picturesque skyline is in ads for luxury apartments. Urban esthetics aside, the damage to Hong Kong residents’ lungs may be worse. “The only safe conclusion is that [air pollution] is having a very serious adverse effect on the health of people of all ages,” says Dr. Anthony Hedley, chairman of the Department of Community Medicine at the University of Hong Kong. Here’s the only good news: air pollution has become so severe and so unremitting that Hong Kongers are fed up—and may finally be ready to force their leaders to act.

              … The answers are out there: the government’s Council for Sustainable Development last week released a number of smart anti-pollution proposals, such as restricting vehicle use on high-pollution days, imposing an energy tax during periods of peak power use, and asking electricity producers to use only clean coal or low-polluting natural gas by 2010. While those ideas could have a major impact, many experts doubt whether Hong Kong’s entrenched bureaucracy has the imagination or the will to implement them—and to confront a challenge that crosses borders and barriers.

              “We’ve done the easy things, like getting diesel vehicles on low-sulfur fuels,” says Bill Barron, a visiting professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “But the more fundamental changes still need to be made”—such as extending the city’s underdeveloped rail network.

              At least the Hong Kong government has the authority to make those changes, if it chooses. There’s far less it can do about the estimated 80% of its air pollution that floats across the border from the mainland factories, power plants and highways of Guangdong province, where environmental regulations and enforcement are more lax.

              A consensus is growing that Hong Kong businessmen who have grown rich polluting the Pearl River Delta should help clean up the mess. “In the past, they thought that the dirty fields, the dirty air and the dirty water resulting from the factories would not be their problems,” said Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang last month. “These things come back to haunt us. You breathe in that air in Hong Kong and you drink that water in Hong Kong.”

              The business community is also increasingly worried that pollution will make Hong Kong fall behind in the arms race for top foreign workers. Last month human-resources consultancy ECA International dropped Hong Kong 12 spots to No. 32 on its annual list of the most livable cities for Asian expatriates, chiefly on the basis of air pollution. (Singapore was No. 1.) Headhunters are already grappling with this competitive threat. Aaron Stewart, director of the Hong Kong division of recruitment firm Pelham International, tells of a client who accepted an $800,000-a-year offer to move from the U.S. to Hong Kong, only to drop out at the last minute because his wife feared the effect the city’s air pollution would have on their two asthmatic children. “The majority of people spend a lot of time thinking about it,” he says. “There’s no denying the pollution.”

              Let There Be Light
              While Seoul cleans up, air pollution in Hong Kong only worsens. Will the government act


              Clear the Air/Asiaexpat petition, requesting govt take immediate action on air pollution:


              Chester Yung Taking stronger policy measures to improve air quality could help to avoid the deaths of 1,600 people in Hong Kong, a survey has found. The study "Air Pollution: costs and paths to a solution – Understanding the connection between visibility, air pollution and health cost, in pursuit of accountability, environmental justice and health protection" concluded that air pollution causes discomfort and illness in children and adults, increased use of health care at all levels of the health- care system and premature deaths. Findings were released Thursday by the study’s authors from the Department of Community Medicine at Hong Kong University, the Department of Community and Family Medicine at Chinese University, the Institute for the Environment at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology along with think-tank Civic Exchange. Researchers said air quality improvements could bring benefits of more than HK$20 billion a year. In addition, 64,000 hospital "bed days" and 6.8 million family doctor visits could be avoided, findings show. "If it was an infectious disease, there would be a crisis," professor Anthony Hedley from Hong Kong University’s School of Public Health said. "This is a medical emergency." … The study says Hong Kong has poor visibility 45 percent of the time. The city is worse than Los Angeles, London, New York and Paris in terms of respirable suspended particulate air pollution levels. Researchers counted the number of medical "events" – hospital admissions, doctor consultations or deaths – on a daily basis over a period, and looked at the numbers besides data on the amount of pollutants in the air. They estimated that HK$1.5 billion could be saved per year in tangible health-care costs, HK$500 million could be saved in productivity lost due to pollution-related illness and HK$19 billion in intangible costs, including the value of lost lives and the willingness to pay to avoid illness. … Chinese University professor Wong Tze-wai said that Hong Kong’s air quality objectives were based on the 1987 World Health Organization Air Quality Guidelines for Europe and have not been revised since. "They are clearly outdated and offer no protection to the health of Hong Kong’s citizens," Wong said. …

              Deadly cost of air pollution You can/could download the report from June 2006 listings at: Civic Exchange

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